The Fool's Run by John Camp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Listen all y'all, it's a sabotage.
Corporate sabotage, that is.
Kidd is an artist who uses his computer skills to pay the bills that selling paintings won’t cover. He’s also willing to engage in some hacking if the price is right. The wealthy owner of an aviation company approaches Kidd to help him even the score after one of his rival corporations stole a breakthrough piece of technology developed to help sell a new type of jet to the military.
It’s a risky operation that has to be done on a deadline, but the paycheck is a small fortune so Kidd takes the gig. He also recruits some allies to help. His friend/sometime lover LuEllen is a professional burglar who can help him get into the homes of employees for passwords and other info, and Dace is a disgraced journalist who still has the contacts to start smearing the rival company in the media once they throw several monkey wrenches into the works. If they can pull it off they all walk away rich. If not, they might wind up in jail. Or worse.
John Sandford came up with this series at the same time as his Prey novels, and it originally came out in 1989 under his real name John Camp because they were both being published by two different companies who didn’t want to have the same author competing with himself. The Prey series sold better so many more books followed while the Sandford name became the brand. After two books, Kidd would only appear in the Prey series as an unnamed artist until Sandford finally got the full rights back, and once he was a regular best-seller Kidd and LuEllen would return in two more books as well as popping up in the other series now and then.
It’s surprising that this book holds up as well as it does considering it should have several dated aspects. Kidd, like the early version of Davenport in Prey, seems to be constructed as the prototypical ‘80s action/thriller star. He’s a computer expert who is a Vietnam vet that studies martial arts who also engages in shady business. The artist angle makes him a little eccentric, and there’s the added quirk of his using tarot cards as way of spurring outside the box thinking. However, just as he did with Davenport, Sandford manages to keep Kidd grounded and relatable enough that you feel like you’re reading about a smart person with skills, not some completely unrealistic macho asshole.
The other dated element the book manages to skirt is that although a lot of this based on computer hacking circa 1989, it doesn’t read as being ancient. Unlike many a thriller writer in the ‘90s, Sandford always had a knack for incorporating tech of the day and using it for plot points without having people talk about it with wide-eyed awe. While Kidd has to explain some computer stuff and what he’s doing it always seems kind of matter of fact and keeps it a high enough level that the same concepts still apply today.
Overall, this is just a really solid thriller done by a writer early in his fiction career who would go on to become a master at plotting and building tension and momentum. He’s not quite there yet, and the last third of book doesn’t have the same kind of climax you get in his best work.
I’d probably go 3 stars if I just didn’t like Kidd and LuEllen as characters so damn much. Plus, I really appreciate just how deviously clever the sabotage plan is with Kidd being absolutely diabolical in the changes he makes to the company’s computer system coupled with their media campaign to smear it's name. There’s a reason Prey became the more popular series, but there is still fun reading to be had here for Sandford fans.
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